Monday, September 29, 2014

Twine Wrapped Milk Bottle

     Mason jars have been a favorite item of mine to use in decorating for a while, and this year I have added small glass milk bottles to that list of favorites. Both of them add a cozy country feel and can be used in multiple ways from acting as flower vases, to utensil holders, and even for serving beverages. With fall in the air, burlap and twine are two of the items at the top of my list of craft supplies. This weekend I combined some of these things to create a little autumnal feel in the kitchen. First I gathered the items needed for the project:


                       -Small glass milk bottles
                  -Jute twine
                  -Strong double sided tape

Then simply wrap the double sided tape in the area you want, followed by the twine. You can add as little or as much twine as you'd like.


It's an inexpensive, quick, 
and easy craft that looks 
great displayed indoors or out!          

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Mystery Plants

     Several years ago we created a spot for a compost pile in a back corner of our yard. The area is wooded and hidden from view. We place fruit and vegetable scraps along with our raked leaves and grass clippings in this area. As it decomposes, it creates a rich mulch that we add to the garden every spring. Occasionally, we have had some "surprise" plants begin to grow, either in the garden or right from the compost pile itself. One year we put our jack-o-lantern into the compost pile at the end of the Halloween season and the following year a pumpkin vine grew in the area, yielding some fall decorations for us. Well, this year we had 2 mystery plants that started to grow early in the gardening season. One vine started to grow in our garden and another one from the compost pile. Dave moved the one from the compost pile to a sunnier area of the yard. We let the one in the garden grow in the spot it had chosen on its own. As the season progressed, the family took guesses as to what each plant might be. Here are photos of the two pants. Photo one is what grew in our garden and photo two is the plant we transplanted from the compost pile.

Any guesses as to what either one is? Ready for the big reveal?

Here is what plant number one produced in our garden....
The cutest little gourd. It will be perfect to use with our autumn decorating.

And now for the reveal of what plant number two produced...

  A small honeydew melon. Unfortunately the fruit never fully ripened before the plant died, but it was still fun to wait and see what the mystery plant produced. So while the main advantage of our compost pile is to produce some nutrient rich material for our vegetable garden, it also has the added benefit of yielding some surprise plants each year.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Pulled Pork

     This is a great recipe to have on hand for times when you are having a group over  to watch football games or on buffet table for any family gathering. If you need it ready earlier in the day, you can start it in the crock pot the night before. Leftovers (if there are any) can be frozen for use at a later time.

-piece of pork approximately 7-9 lbs. It's usually labeled as pork shoulder, butt or picnic, and should have a thick layer of fat on it (don't worry, you'll be removing later)
- garlic powder
-1 full bottle of barbeque sauce                          
-12 oz  bottle of Worcestershire sauce

Place the pork in a slow cooker and liberally sprinkle with garlic powder.
Pour the entire bottle of Worcestershire sauce over the meat.
Cook on low for at least 8 hours. The pork should should fall off the bone and pull apart easily.
Place the meat on a cutting board to cool.
Pour the juice into a bowl and place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour so that the fatty juices will separate, float to the top and harden.
Meanwhile, using a fork, scrape the layer of fat from the meat to remove it and discard.
Using 2 forks, pull the meat apart until shredded and return it to the slow cooker.
Using a spoon, scrape the layer of fat off of the refrigerated juices and discard.
From the remaining juices, take one cup of the fluid and pour it over the shredded meat in the slow cooker.
Add the full bottle of barbeque sauce and  mix well.     

Cook for 1 hour on low.

The finished pork can be served on hard rolls with shredded cheese and/or cole slaw on top.  Be sure to have plenty of napkins on hand and enjoy!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Chord Organizer

     Have you noticed that as the number of electronic gadgets we have increases so does the amount of charging chords and accessories? If so, you are going to love this crafty storage solution. In our home it was becoming more and more difficult to find a central location to store all of these items. For a while I tried to keep them in a cute basket on our kitchen counter, but they would often become a tangled mess, and as the number of chords increased, the basket was soon overflowing. I was talking to a friend who said a college friend of hers came up with a simple solution to handle the ever increasing amount of chargers and accessories in her home. She used an over the door shoe holder. Ingenious! I purchased a very basic shoe holder at Walmart and hung it on the back of  the door inside our coat closet. I was initially going to label the pockets with a marker, but didn't like the idea that it wouldn't be possible to neatly change the labeling in the future. So, I was going to tape paper labels on the pocket or use stickers. However, while shopping for chalkboard paint for another project, I came across chalkboard labels in a set that also included a fine tip chalk marker!
This was a perfect solution. The marker would allow me to label each holder, but unlike chalk it wouldn't rub off easily. If necessary, the chalk marker  could be removed using an ammonia based cleaner like Windex. I loved that it would allow me the opportunity to change the labeling as needed in the future. Organization issue solved.   

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas by James Patterson

     Did you ever read something that touched and retouched your life in some way? Well today I'd like to recommend one of my favorite stories for this month's book selection...Suzanne's Diary For Nicholas by James Patterson. This is not a new book; in fact it was was written twelve years ago. I first read it not long after it was published and chose to reread it this month. I had originally found this book on display at a store that I had stopped at on my way home from work one day. It was a few days before my family and I were scheduled to go on vacation, and I was rushing around trying to get things crossed off my 'to do list' before we left. I was working late hours at work in anticipation of being off the following week, and I had a ton of things that needed to get done at home as well.
 The cover of the book is initially what caught my was of a sandy ocean trail leading to the ocean. A quick glance through the book revealed that it was about a diary written by a mother for her son, and took place on Martha's Vineyard. A friend and I had attended a health care conference in Boston a few years before, and took a tour of Martha's Vineyard on one of our days off. I absolutely fell in love with the place. One of my favorite cook book authors and bloggers, Susan Branch, lives on Martha's Vineyard and always makes it sound like such a quaint place to live. I was sold on the setting of the story already. I also adore doing sentimental things as a mom for my children; so a book about a mother writing a diary for her son was right up my alley. This seemed like the perfect light 'beach read' to bring on vacation, and I decided to buy it. I couldn't help myself, and I started to read the book that night. The story dragged me in and I had to force myself to stop reading or I'd finish it before we even began on our trip.
     The book is a  sentimental love story with a bit of mystery and a surprise ending thrown in. As I was reading it for the first time I became enamored with one of the main characters, Matt. Yet the author threw in some tidbits that made you think you shouldn't trust him...or should you? I won't give the details away but will say it is a quick read and a touching story. I will add that there is a part that made me cry...literally cry with full fledged tears running down my face. Luckily, I had gotten up early on vacation one morning to read as the rest of my family slept. I was glad I had, because otherwise I would have had to explain to everyone why Mommy was crying as she read. Was I just being insanely emotional? Maybe, but a few of my friends who later read the book said it made them cry as well.
     So, why did I choose to reread this story now, and why did I decide to write this post today? Well, today marks the one year anniversary of the accident that I briefly mentioned on my "about" page. I had said that my extended medical leave from work after the accident had afforded me a lot of time to reflect on many things. I had mentioned "juggling the balls" that represented my various roles, and the need to focus more on the meaningful things while trying to achieve a better balance in life. Those statements actually elude to a quote from this book:  "Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. The balls are called work, family, health, friends and integrity. And you're keeping all of them in the air. But one day you finally come to understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls -family, health, friends, integrity- are made of glass. If you drop one of these it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered. And once you truly understand the lesson of the five balls, you will have the beginnings of balance in your life."
     So, as the one year anniversary of my accident approached, I decided to reread this book. With the encouragement of my family and a very dear friend, I also decided to start this blog as a place where I could focus on things that bring me the most happiness...creating a cozy home and great memories with my family and friends.
     Shortly after my accident, one of my friends whose family was also going through a challenging time, gave me an Alex and Ani bracelet. The charm on it was an anchor and the attached card said it represented Hope/Tranquility/Stability and it read "Holding fast and steady despite the elements, the anchor is a symbol of stability, hope and peace. The anchor allows us to keep a clear mind amidst the tides of life. An emblem of good luck, wear the anchor charm for courage, safety and peace of mind." That bracelet has become a staple in my wardrobe over this past year. I had also purchased a Pandora bracelet and  some meaningful charms for another special friend who had gone out of her way to help me and my family in the weeks following my accident. Ironically, while rereading Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas, I came across another quote that mentioned charm bracelets and memories..."Good memories are like charms. Each one is special. You collect them one by one, until one day you look back and discover they make a long colorful bracelet". This book was touching me again, even in new ways the second time around.
     There were other parallels in this story that touched my life at this time as well. In addition to the fact that a car accident impacts the life of the characters in the story, Suzanne, the mom, suffers a heart attack at a young age. Well since the first time I read this book, the husband of another long time friend of mine had a heart attack at a young age and additionally had to deal with another serious diagnosis. They had small children at the time. Again, reminders of how special life with those we love is, and how important it is to treasure each day and treat it like a gift.
     So, this post ended up being much longer and much sappier than I had intended. However, I hope you'll take my recommendation and read this James Patterson book if you haven't already. And maybe in addition to a good story, you'll walk away with some pearls of advice too. The opening page of the edition I have says "Don't wait to tell someone you love them."...Great story, great advice, words to live by!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bruschetta Style Pasta

     I found this recipe on a box of spaghetti years ago, and it has become one of our favorite summer dishes when the garden is producing an abundance of tomatoes and herbs. You can use dried herbs if fresh are not available, but nothing beats the aroma your kitchen will have while you are preparing it with fresh herbs and garlic.

Bruschetta Style Pasta


1 box of thin spaghetti
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp minced  garlic
3 cups of fresh tomatoes, diced
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
To taste: oregano and basil (fresh or dried), shredded parmesan cheese, cracked pepper, salt

Cook pasta according to directions. Heat olive oil in a large saute pan on medium high heat. Saute garlic until golden. Add the tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and herbs. Heat until warmed (about 2 minutes), Combine the pasta and tomato mixture and heat until warmed (2-3 minutes). Top with parmesan cheese, cracked pepper and salt to taste.



Monday, September 8, 2014

The Perilous Garden Photo Shoot

     What can be perilous about doing a photo shoot for a crafty, homey, DIY blog you might ask? Well, I'll admit that "perilous" is an exaggeration, but something unusual and somewhat painful did happen to me a few days ago when Pam and I were trying to take some outdoor photos for this blog.We were getting ready to stage a really pretty shot by some black-eyed Susan plants in one of our flower gardens. There were some dead leaves and a few that had some holes in them, as if they had been munched on by an insect. Not wanting those few leaves to detract from the photograph, I began picking them off the plant. All of a sudden I felt this "prickly" sensation on my arm. I went to grab another leaf off the plant and my arm started to sting and burn. It then began to turn red and I noticed this mark. I had no idea what happened and the odd sensations in my arm began to intensify. I started looking among the plant stems to see if I could find anything. All of a sudden Pam noticed something odd on one of the leaves I had taken off the plant. I've come across many insects while gardening, but neither of us had ever seen anything like this before. I went inside to ask Dave to come out into the yard to see if he knew what it might be, but as teenagers do, Pam was already trying to access information about the mystery bug on her phone. By the time Dave and I returned to the yard she was reading information to us, and I must admit, the burning in my arm was getting a little worse.

     It turns out the culprit is "Acharia Stimulea", or more commonly known as a Saddleback Caterpillar, and it is considered poisonous. It belongs to a family of slug caterpillars called Limacodidae. They are found in eastern North America from July to October. While they mature into moths that are dark in color, the caterpillars themselves look quite colorful and interesting. They have what looks like a green saddle on their dark colored base. They also have spines that protrude in many directions and that is how they inject the poison into their victims. We read about them on various sites, and as recommended, I washed the area and put an ice pack on my arm, followed by some hydrocortisone cream. My reaction was mild and my arm felt better about an hour later. However, from what I read, some people have a much worse response, especially if they are allergic to bee stings. It's certainly an insect that I will be on the lookout for in the future and will do my best to avoid it.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Artissimo Blue Milk Paint Projects

     In an earlier post I had said that I wanted to experiment with some of the blue shades in the Miss Mustard Seed brand of milk paint as well as the various finishes that can be used on them. I used the artissimo, or navy blue shade, in her line on the following two pieces. I painted these before I started the blog, so unfortunately I do not have "before" photos to show you. I've had both pieces for years but had never gotten around to staining or painting them. They were both unfinished wood, so they absorbed the paint quickly and did not yield the "chippy" effect that can be common with milk paint when the bonding agent is not used. I used the hemp oil finish on both pieces and it really created a very rich hue.

I did not do any distressing on the small bench. It now sits in the corner of our kitchen with a basket that stores potatoes on top of it. It also comes in handy when I need to reach something on a top shelf in one of the cabinets. To give the table a somewhat aged look, I did slightly distress it in a few spots with a fine grit sandpaper before I sealed  it with the hemp oil. The table now sits on the landing that leads up to our master bedroom. I really love the richness of the color.


A New Way to Utilize the Zucchini from our Garden

     Our garden yielded an abundance of zucchini this year, and I was searching for a new way to use it. I've enjoyed using this vegetable slicer  so much, that I ended up purchasing one as a gift for my parents as well, so they use it with their home grown
produce. It comes with 3 blades that can slice the items in various ways. It makes spaghetti like strands, thick-spiral like strands and ribbon-like strands. I've used the spaghetti slicer before, so today I decided to try the spiral slicer and this is what the zucchini ended up looking like. I then steamed  the spirals for a few minutes to get them warmed and a little softer. I just happened to have the ingredients on hand to make another batch of the Pesto Genovese recipe that I had written about on August 28th. I mixed the warm spirals with a little of the pesto and it made for a tasty and healthy side dish. It also served as a way to utilize some of the vegetables and herbs that our garden was still producing towards the end of this year's growing season.